Vegetable gardening is full of variables. Temperature, moisture, frost free days, insect /pests, maintenance discipline and luck all play roles. I’m recapping 2012 here mainly as a record to myself. I used to keep a garden journal but not so much since I’ve started writing about it.

2012 was an interesting growing year. Here’s what happened….

Spring came early to the Chicago area. We were frost free from late April, a good two weeks before normal and I planted most things out on May 5th.Unfortunately with the warmth also came drought. It was the hottest and driest summer since 1988! High temperatures and empty rain barrels necessitated  daily watering. “Dawn patrol” became my favorite time of the day. Out watering as the sun came up, I kept an eye on the garden watchful for signs of pests or distress as well as the excitement of tiny emergent vegetables.

On July 1st we had a terrible storm that took down my shade tree and magnolia. Both total losses. What initially looked like a lot of damage to the vegetable garden turned out to be mostly cosmetic.

A few things changed since last year in terms of the infrastructure or hardscape of the garden. Late last year I almost doubled the size of the beds to 188 square feet. I installed several new beds and a double deep bed.  Additionally I topped off the beds with some great compost.  In a year or two, all the beds should be filled to the top.

New crops for 2012 included garlic, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, spaghetti squash, and pole beans. For the most part they did well, but I think I can do better.

Things that did well included the (no surprise here) the heat loving nightshades – tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  The hot peppers were so prolific, I need to practice a bit more moderation for the next few years as I work my way through the current supply.

Failures included cucumbers (it’s ok, I still have pickles from last year), zucchini, crooked neck squash,  tomatoes other than the plum types, and pole beans planted in containers.  The plants grew but were not vigorous, nor produced the expected level of fruit.  I consider the cucumbers and crooked neck squash total failures.

Pests included slugs, cabbage moths,  flea beetles and one tomato hornworm. So far I’ve done nothing to control them except remove what I can see by hand.  While there is some damage, in general I don’t feel it necessary to bring out any pesticides. And they don’t seem to bother production much at all.

I weigh the produce I am able to use or give away. By doing this I satisfy my inner manager (Must. Keep. Records.) and I can also keep track of my yield per square foot.  If I can get over 2 lbs per square foot I’ll be pretty happy. Why 2 lbs? – Just a number to start with. If I achieve that, I’ll up the number.

First harvest was May 20 (lettuce), last harvest November 10 (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage).

The garlic is already in for next year.

2012 Harvest  Totals (in lbs):

Beets                                17.22
Broccoli                           10.50
Butternut Squash           17.33
Brussels sprouts             12.17
Cabbage                            9.30
Carrot                              12.24
Chard/greens                  9.08
Crooked neck squash    0.00
Cucumber                         5.73
Eggplant                          12.31
Garlic                                 2.35
Green beans                   25.97
Green Onions                  0.84
Kohlrabi                            6.53
Lettuce Greens                 9.01
Onion                                 4.14
Hot peppers                   32.24
Sweet peppers                 12.72
Potatoes                            23.14
Radish                                 4.25
Shallot                                 2.24
Snap peas                          0.06
Spinach                               5.15
Spaghetti Squash           10.43
Tomatoes                         73.75
Turnip                                3.73
Zucchini                           18.69

TOTAL                     341.10

Lbs per square foot       1.81

Harvest Preservation – the equivalent of 146 pints canned, and about 5lbs frozen.

For next year, these are the issues to consider/improve upon.

Repair vertical supports damaged by the storm

Improve my seed starting. This may include not scheduling trips while they are most vulnerable. Many of the plants were starts – eggplants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts. I’d really like to be able to do more “from scratch” ala Mark and Granny.

Crop rotation – in such a small garden this may become problematic. I am not so concerned with the soil nutrient depletion as I am with plant specific pests making themselves at home. In terms of nutrients, if I keep adding amendments I should be OK. I think. Also, the deep bed for carrots and potatoes really can’t be rotated as is. I may need to find a solution before next spring. In the same vein, I can definitely improve on re-planting after harvesting so the ground is always producing. When one comes out another should go in.


Crop selection – I plan look for crops that are ideally suited for canning/preserving.

I’d love to expand but the only place to do that at this point is into the driveway. This would mean more containers. Not necessarily a problem, but they require more care than the beds do. I’m all about easy.

I’d love to add asparagus but need to find a spot that I can let them be…

Add some fig trees – fresh fruit would be such a thrill!

Extending the season. I’ve used hoop rows and gotten a little more time out of the garden but not much.  Mark has some very nice row cloches that I’d like to try and fabricate.

Make more use of cold frame in the spring – wait, I don’t have a cold frame – OK another thing to build.

Expand my repertoire of canned goods, including more “finished” meals, chili con carne, soups etc, based on home grown produce. Though it’d be fine to practice on store-bought on sale ala Becky.

I guess that is about it. I’m sure deep in the winter I’ll come up with more. Now when will the first seed catalog come?

Are you already planning for “next year?”

Until next time, Keep Digging and Eat Well!